Love’s best game of the season, scoring balance lead UNC to big win at Duke

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina saved its best combination of inside scoring punch and perimeter-shooting clout all season for rival Duke. And freshman point guard Caleb Love saved his best game of the season for college basketball’s best rivalry.

The Blue Devils were pesky to put away but they couldn’t handle all of that in the end as UNC (12–7, 7–4 ACC) scored a season-high 30 points off turnovers on their way to a 91–87 victory Saturday over Duke (7–7, 5–5) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Leaky Black made three free throws in the last 14.6 seconds, including two with 7.2 seconds left, to put the game away. 

In between the trips to the free-throw line, Black forced Duke’s Wendell Moore into a turnover. Before Saturday, the 24 points off turnovers against Wake Forest were the season-high.

“I knew he was going to try to get downhill and I knew I couldn’t afford to foul,” said Black, who had four fouls at the time. “I knew he was going to be aggressive. He was kind of out of control.”

It was quite a turnaround for Carolina from the nightmare that was the loss at Clemson. The Tar Heels scored as many points (50) in the second half as during the entire loss to the Tigers. UNC also had more field goals (18–17) in the second half than in the game Tuesday.

Love’s season-highs of 25 points and seven assists and a good all-around floor game gave the Tar Heels the kind of floor leader they have needed all season. That tied Raymond Felton for the most points by a UNC freshman in his first game against Duke.

Love became the third player in program history to reach those point and assist totals against Duke. Charlie Scott had 34 points and eight assists in 1969 and Phil Ford had 28 and 8 in 1976, both in Carmichael Auditorium.

“I was in that zone,” said Love, whose previous highs were 20 points against Wake Forest and six assists against Iowa. “Just going into the game, I just knew I had to be a big part of my team, getting this way of controlling the traffic and just doing a lot of things that the point guards do. It’s been a long, long season for me, up and down. But, man, this was great.”

Love said that a lot of work went into putting together a game like that.

“Just watching a lot of film of myself, and watching a lot of film on our opponents and how they play defense,” Love said. “So, just seeing myself and seeing where I can pick my spots and pick apart the defense and that’s just helped me a lot.”

Armando Bacot, right, and Day’Ron Sharpe, left, congratulate Caleb Love on his big game.

Love had a lot of help as six Tar Heels scored in double figures: Armando Bacot scored 16, Garrison Brooks, Kerwin Walton and Black scored 12 and Day’Ron Sharpe 11.  It was the first game with six double-figure scorers since the Tennessee State game on Nov. 16, 2018.

UNC shot 53.1% from the floor for its second-best shooting game of the season. It was the second time this season that the Tar Heels shot better than 50% in both halves (also in the home win vs. N.C. State.)

Carolina made 10 of 15 3-point attempts, four each from Love and Walton. The 10 3-pointers tied the season-high UNC made in the loss at Florida State. The 66.7% shooting from 3-point range easily topped the previous best of 45.0% at Miami.

The only time Carolina shot better than that from 3-point range against Duke was when it was 12 of 15 in 1983 at Cameron when the ACC used the experimental arc that was only 17 feet, 9 inches away.

Don’t tell Coach Roy Williams that Love played the best game he can play, just that he played his best game as a Tar Heel. Williams’ beefs were Love’s five turnovers and the times when he didn’t get back on defense and gave up two layups.

“Caleb did some really good things, made some big shots and made a couple of big free throws down the stretch as well,” said Williams, who is 217–9 when his team shoots at least 50%. “I think he can be a great player and he was big for us tonight. You cannot have those kinds of mistakes. Two times, we didn’t get back on defense and it was like a seven- or eight-point game. And we gave two layups because we don’t get back.”

Love’s success can only help open things up for the big men inside.

“I’m just glad for him,” said Bacot, who is averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games against Duke. “I knew he had one of those games coming. I mean, he’s a great player, he really is, and just to see him doing it on the biggest stage and probably our biggest game this year was just huge for him. Hopefully, this can carry over with his confidence going on to later in the season. Hopefully, this is where we see Caleb Love be born.”

RJ Davis scrambles to get the ball against Duke’s Jordan Goldwire.

Matthew Hurt is Duke’s leading scorer at 18.8 points per game coming into the game and figured to be a huge factor. But he was scoreless with one shot in the first half and didn’t score until a baseline drive with 11:05 left in the game. Those were his first points against Carolina in his third game against the Tar Heels for Hurt, who fouled out with 4:16 left with seven points.

“It’s important to get the other guys’ best player in foul trouble. We wanted to try to attack him,” Williams said. “We did a decent job defensively. He made a couple in a row in the second half but it’s a lot easier to cover him when he spends 19 minutes sitting over there on the bench because of foul trouble.”

Williams loved getting 39 points from three big men who also helped UNC outrebound Duke 38–31.

“Our big guys are the strength of our team,” Williams said. “I think the rebounds were big for us in the second half, the second-chance points and we made shots.”

UNC jumped out to an 11–3 lead as Duke turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes. A Love steal and dunk for a 3-point play with 15:43 to play put UNC up 17–7 and a Brooks free throw made it 25–16 with 9:14 left. 

But the Blue Devils went on a 16–5 run in the next 5 minutes and 22 seconds to take a 32–30 lead with 3:52 left in the first half on an inside bucket by Jalen Johnson.

UNC responded with an 11–5 run, punctuated by dunks from Sharpe and Bacot, and led 41–39 at halftime. 

The Tar Heels opened the second half with an 18–9 run, which included two Bacot dunks, to lead 60–48 on a Sharpe layup with 14:10 left. 

A Johnson 3-pointer with 9:44 finished a 7–0 Duke run to cut its deficit to 67–64. A Hurt 3-pointer with 8:32 chopped the deficit to 69–67. 

Hurt tied it at 77 on an inside bucket with 4:43 left but fouled out 28 seconds later.

A Love drive, two Bacot free throws and a Love 3-pointer put UNC up 86–81 with 1:47 left. After a layup by Duke’s Jeremy Roach (who led Duke with 16 points) with 1:21 left, Love added two free throws. But layups by Moore and D.J. Steward put UNC’s lead at 88–87 with 17 seconds left.  

Black split two free-throw attempts with 14.6 seconds left to make it 89–87 before Wendell Moore traveled with eight seconds left. Black’s two free throws with 7.2 seconds left put the game away with a four-point lead. 

It was the eighth time in the last 10 UNC games in Durham that the Tar Heels have led by at least 10 points, and the win moved them to 4–4 in those games. 

Carolina has a quick turnaround, facing Miami at the Smith Center at 7 p.m. Monday night (ESPN). The Tar Heels beat the Hurricanes at Miami 67–65 on Jan. 5. Miami (7–11, 3–10) lost a heartbreaking 80–76 overtime game after the Hokies’ Hunter Cattoor forced overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

North Carolina 91, Duke 87

ACC pool photos


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